Going to Extremes in Gaza

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from TIME Magazine,

Israel and Hamas face off, driven by radicals on both sides.

The Gaza Strip generates conflict as reliably as a low-pressure system generates rain.

That’s because the battle now is not only between Israel, which patrols Gaza on three sides, and Hamas, the Islamist Palestinian faction pledged to the country’s destruction. Both sides are aware that the continued fighting fuels chaos far beyond what has been seen so far during Operation Protective Edge, as the Israelis dubbed the campaign that began on July 8. Israel wants to hit Hamas, but not so hard that the organization is knocked out of power and a more radical group steps into its place.

In Gaza, the sobering fact is that the alternatives waiting in the wings range from the vicious Islamic Jihad, a favorite of Iran, to an array of fundamentalist militants that now include the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), the post-al-Qaeda band.

On Israel’s side, the violent potential of its extremists became all too apparent in the week leading up to the latest offensive. For much of June, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had been mulling a strike on Gaza in retaliation for the murders of three kidnapped Jewish Israeli teens allegedly taken by suspects with ties to Hamas.

But the decision was taken out of Netanyahu’s hands. A few hours after the Israeli teens were buried on July 1, a baby-faced Palestinian named Muhammad Abu Khdeir was dragged off the sidewalk near his East Jerusalem home by Jewish extremists. Israeli police say the men killed the 16-year-old a few minutes later, setting the boy on fire while he was still breathing.

Rioting broke out in Jerusalem within hours, spreading quickly to majority-Palestinian cities across Israel, where 1 in 5 residents is of Arab descent. The July 6 arrest of the Jewish suspects failed to reduce tensions.

But Hamas proved less temperate, firing scores of missiles from Gaza in what it called solidarity with the martyrs. The pressure on Netanyahu mounted.

Jewish extremists continue to roam Palestinian communities both inside Israel and on the West Bank, where a 22-year-old nearly lost his leg on July 5 in one apparent revenge attack.

After years of largely ignoring settler attacks on the Palestinians it is obliged by international law to protect, the Israeli military has taken the unusual step of posting troops at the exits of the more notoriously militant Jewish settlements.

But that may not be enough. Encouraged by social-media calls for revenge– –and an established tolerance for hate speech, the real possibility of Jewish terrorism complicates the usual danger that going to war in Gaza will lead to violence on the West Bank.

How bad can it get? Israel would be lucky if the consequences ended with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ taking his charge of “genocide” to the U.N. Security Council, as he threatened to do July 9. A third intifadeh is not out of the question, especially amid evidence that Hamas had decided to go all out.

Still, both Hamas and Israel have continued to negotiate, albeit through the mediation of Egypt, which Hamas badly needs to please.

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